Who’s raising the bar(re) in Pittsburgh dance in 2016

Who’s raising the bar(re) in Pittsburgh dance in 2016

Paging through a recent issue of Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit or some other national performing arts publication, you’ll likely come across more than one mention of Pittsburgh connection.

The city has become a hotbed for dance in recent years, both as a producer of homegrown talent and as a presenter of performers and choreographers from around the world.

For starters, this region has produced Kyle Abraham, a Lincoln-Larimer native and 2013 MacArthur Fellow who heads his own New York City-based dance company, and Murrysville’s Maddie Ziegler, one of the stars of Lifetime TV’s “Dance Moms.”

The new year is young, but it’s already shaping up to be one packed with must-see dance. Here’s a sampling of performances and people that are raising the bar (or barre) in Pittsburgh dance:

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre: not just the classics

PBT has more than “Swan Lake” and Sugar Plum Fairies to offer. The company has raised the rigor of its repertoire, contrasting classical ballets with contemporary masterworks, including William Forsythe’s “In the Middle Somewhat Elevated,” Jiri Kylian’s “Sinfonietta” and “Petite Mort,” and Mark Morris’ “Sandpaper Ballet,” which helped PBT clinch an invitation to perform last summer at the Chicago Dancing Festival.

Check out its mixed repertory program March 10-13 at Byham Theater featuring a new work by principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano along with PBT premieres of James Kudelka’s “The Man in Black” (with Johnny Cash music) and Michael Smuin’s “Eternal Idol” (with Chopin music). The 2015-16 season wraps up in April with the company’s first production of the classical full-length ballet “Le Corsaire,” accompanied by the PBT Orchestra playing the Adolphe Adam score.

Pittsburgh Dance Council: a global buffet of dance

The arts can enlighten, educate, entertain and enchant. Last season, Pittsburgh Dance Council did all that and more with the creme de la creme of companies from across the world. (I’m still in awe of the Scottish Ballet’s “Streetcar Named Desire” that was here for only one night in May.)

Check out Dada Masilo’s “Swan Lake” on Jan. 30 in which the South African company challenges stereotypes and raises issues of sex, gender and homophobia. In April, audiences will get a taste of tap courtesy of 2015 MacArthur Fellow Michelle Dorrance. Her Dorrance Dance troupe is the dance council season’s first tap dance act since Savion Glover appeared a decade ago.

Point Park Conservatory Dance Company: grooming the next generation

Point Park University has blossomed into one of the country’s premier collegiate training grounds for aspiring professional dancers. Department chair Ruben Graciani, a Mark Morris Dance Group veteran who came here in 2014, has strengthened its reputation with choreographer commissions, community collaborations and a potential student exchange program with a conservatory overseas. In March, Point Park will welcome its first National High School Dance Festival and 1,400 students from across the world.

Check out “Five,” Mr. Graciani’s new work with faculty member Kiesha Lalama, coming Feb. 5-14 to the Pittsburgh Playhouse Rockwell Theatre in Oakland. Later next month, the annual mixed repertory program at Byham Theater will show off students tackling works by a diverse roster of choreographers.

Kelly-Strayhorn Theater: diversity, diversity, diversity!

This theater is a century old, but its programming is as relevant as ever. Executive director Janera Solomon has transformed it into a destination for dance that doesn’t shy away from timely topics of race, gender and more. It’s also helped to foster lots of rising artists and new works through its residency programs.

Check out the newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival in May. Now in its eighth year, this multi-day event brings together fresh, dynamic voices from across the region.

Attack Theatre: keeping us on our toes

This 22-year-old company has been called the chameleon of modern dance. Last season’s “Between” was a mind-bending undertaking that divided the audience and set in two, as dancers seamlessly slipped back and forth between performance spaces inside the Pittsburgh Opera headquarters. Then in November, Attack Theatre tapped into children’s imaginations with “Remainder | Northside,” a piece plucked from the people and places of the North Side.

Check out “Laws of Attraction,” an exploration of physical science and human interaction that premieres in April.

Corningworks/Glue Factory Project: daring and thought-provoking

A Corningworks performance is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get. Beth Corning’s artistry is pure, unadulterated dance theater that takes no prisoners and makes you rethink things you thought you already knew.

Check out “Right of Way” March 30 to April 3 at the New Hazlett Theater. The question this time: Who gets to determine gender roles, and at what psychological cost?

Others worth watching … 

Pittsburgh has become known as an incubator for up and coming talent. One of its latest success stories is 5-year-old Texture Contemporary Ballet under the direction of founding artistic director Alan Obuzor and associate artistic director Kelsey Bartman.

The city also is home to a crop of burgeoning choreographers, including Jasmine HearnShana SimmonsJessica Marino and slowdanger’s Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight.

Then there are those who we’re just getting to know. In 2015, we saw the debut of Merztanz Contemporary Ballet and more from Exhalations Dance Theatre and fireWALL Dance Theater. Before the holidays, we also learned about a makeover for Pearlann Porter’s Pillow Project.

What does 2016 have in store for all of them? Stay tuned …

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